Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Book Review: “The Empty Bottle” edited by John Dugan

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, News and Dish, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Prog-rock, Protopunk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Rockabilly, Shoegaze No Comments »



I didn’t have high expectations for “The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing” (especially with that grammatically awkward subtitle; yes, those are the famous call-outs emblazoned on the club’s awning, but in print they look like something translated into Mandarin and then back again). Histories of entertainment venues tend to skew either toward brain-numbing listicles or institutional hagiography. But in fact “The Empty Bottle,” edited by John Dugan, is pure delight; it’s a compendium of short tributes and memoirs by close to two dozen people who have worked, played or hung out at the club, and whose voices are wonderfully varied and engaging. Yes, there are the obligatory recollections of early dates by Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but the cumulative result is something much greater—in fact, a genuine and consistently beguiling social history. Like, if Studs Terkel had been born in 1980. Read the rest of this entry »

Art > Commerce @ SXSW 2015: A Survivor’s Story

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews, Post-Rock, Rock No Comments »
Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

By Bart Lazar

“To hell with poverty,” Gang of Four tells us, “we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.” The only problem is that the band is playing at SXSW on a stage sponsored by dozens of global megabrands and funded by tens of thousands of trade show attendees, each of whom has shelled out thousands of dollars to attend. But just like the song, SXSW has an irresistible beat you can dance to, so that art, entertainment and fun ultimately trump commerce. Read the rest of this entry »

Film Review: “Breadcrumb Trail”

Post-Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDBreadcrumb Trail Film

Slint’s documentary film, distributed as part of the deluxe box set reissue of 1991’s seminal “Spiderland” (and screened last night at the Music Box Theatre with director Lance Bangs and band members David Pajo and Todd Brashear in tow for a Q&A), paints the band as anything but pretentious, and offers some unexpected surprises, including belly laughs from poop jokes. That’s some welcome relief from a group whose musical mystique renders critical conversation convoluted by the zeal of fandom. Listeners aren’t to blame; Slint’s intimate sound inspires insight from every variety of interested ear—clearly illustrative of the precocious power unique to a Louisville group that disbanded by the end of their adolescence. Thousands of think-pieces about post-rock later, and the story still resonates with an audience unfamiliar with the particulars. “Breadcrumb Trail” shines a spotlight on everything from what Touch and Go Records resembled in the early nineties, to the pivotal role drummer Britt Walford played in conceptualizing the tone of the tunes. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

By Kenneth Preski

Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.

“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”

Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jaga Jazzist/Lincoln Hall

Electronic/Dance, Jazz, Post-Rock, World Music No Comments »


There’s almost no use in attempting to define the music Jaga Jazzist, a Norwegian uber-combo consisting of something like nine members, depending on when you catch the band live, works up. Beginning in 1996 with “Jævla Jazzist Grete Stitz,” the ensemble made clear that anything from jazz to rock, European folk musics and electronica were on the table. At times, as with “Serafin,” Jaga Jazzist could be compared to Soft Machine during its more sedate moments. Jumping ahead a few years to 2001’s “A Livingroom Hush,” the band sounds like the actualization of Kieran Hebden’s jazzy dreams. The conflagration of acoustic instrumentation skewed towards a jazz tradition, and a European conception of dance music and electronics works surprisingly well. As Jaga Jazzist headed into record its third work, “The Stix,” all involved minimized the jazz influence and turned towards something like post-rock. Sharing a stage with Tortoise wasn’t a mistake. There was still a jazz flair to it all, simply due to the persistent inclusion of a horn section, but European composition became a focus, densely orchestrated portions of “Aerial Bright Dark Round” standing in stark contrast to earlier, more playful works. 2010 marked the band releasing its newest disc with assistance from Chicagoans John McEntire and Paul Nilssen-Love. With those collaborations, the Norwegians put together another album of surprisingly varied music, coming off as an updated Frank Zappa, who was in reality just trying to update Edgar Varèse. So, does that make Jagga Jazzist modern day avant-gardists of the highest order? Maybe. But even if it doesn’t, the Norwegians might suit those listeners who find Battles enticing, but a bit too aggressive. The band, without setting up any sort of sonic boundaries, though, has a sporting chance at entertaining just about anyone with an open ear. (Dave Cantor)

June 29 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2508, 9pm. $14. 18+.

Preview: NOMO/Empty Bottle

Post-Rock, World Music No Comments »


If you have never heard the music of NOMO, consider this your opportunity for musical education. Rising out of the well-trodden depths of Afrobeat diaspora in the mid-aughts, the Ann Arbor, Michigan ensemble, fronted by Elliot Bergman, styled its own unique hybrid form with two releases late in the decade, 2008’s “Ghost Rock” and 2009’s “Invisible Cities.” NOMO’s original derivation includes reliance on softly metallic vibraphones as well as standard kit in percussion, funk horn and sax parts and subtle electronic manipulation. Perhaps the more avant-garde of the two, “Ghost Rock” is not afraid to employ dissonance to build anxiety, as on opener “Brainwave,” perhaps a more sedate and drawn-out analogue to the genre-spawning crescendo’s of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem.” Overall it is NOMO’s boldness in synthesis that marks them out, somehow managing to combine Fela Kuti and Tortoise without making it sound like cats fighting in a bag. (David Wicik)

March 5 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 10pm. $14.

Molding Music: The sound tinkering of Shapers

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Post-Rock No Comments »

Photo: Joe Carsello

By David Wicik

One of the first things to remark about the band Shapers is just how mature of a sound the group has been able to achieve in such a short period of time. But there’s a simple explanation for that. While the four-piece ensemble, who make nuanced experimental music, have only been recording as Shapers for about a year now, they have been playing together and evolving as musicians for nearly a decade.

Shapers is comprised of married couple Zaid Maxwell and Amelia Styer, Todd Waters and Steve Reidell, the latter better known for his work on world-famous music blog The Hood Internet as DJ STV SLV, mash-up maestro extraordinaire (Styer jokes that Reidell looks at the Shapers project as “his crazy little brother”). The four formed the core of May or May Not, a now-defunct pop group that Maxwell says took after late-era Beatles work in its song structure and sound.

The transition from MoMN to Shapers reflects a sea change in the group’s methodology. Whereas MoMN was a group of songwriters working in isolation, Shapers embraces a more aleatoric approach to music making. As Waters explains, “Those (MoMN’s) pieces were mostly written, and we would all make our part for it. In this band we just make it up, we improvise and record ourselves and then try and go back and find the good parts.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Tortoise 2.0/Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Dubstep, Electro, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Jazz, Post-Rock, Techno, World Music No Comments »


The annual weekly summer jazz series “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” makes a welcome return to Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion tonight for six weeks of Thursday night concerts through September 2. Spotlighting Chicago’s leading jazz artists across the spectrum of the genre—from Latin and Big Band to experimental, avant-garde and fusion forms—the series, a collaboration between the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Jazz Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, will include world-premiere commissions, international collaborations and major artist centennial and anniversary celebrations.

First up is Tortoise, formed in Chicago in 1990 with roots reaching across the city’s jazz, indie-rock and punk scenes and considered pioneers of the post-rock movement. This twentieth-anniversary-year lineup, dubbed Tortoise 2.0, is made up of Dan Bitney on bass, keyboards, drums, percussion and guitar; John Herndon on drums, synthesizer, percussion and electronics; Douglas McCombs on bass, guitar and keyboards; John McEntire on keyboards, drums and percussion; and Jeff Parker on guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizer and percussion along with special guests for this special appearance that include Ed Wilkerson on reeds; Greg Ward on saxophone; Nicole Mitchell on flute and piccolo; Jim Baker on piano and vintage ARP synthesizer 2600 and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Summer Sounds—Gard(en)Counter/Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop, House, IDM, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Industrial, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Punk, Rock, Shoegaze, Space Pop No Comments »

Kid Color


The Art Institute of Chicago’s sleek, pristine Modern Wing is hosting the current Sound & Vision exhibit, which aims to explore “the symbiotic relationship between art and music, presenting humorous yet rigorous investigations in which the two do not connect in any synesthetic sense but rather come together via acts of transposition…” To this effect, the Art Institute, in conjunction with Metro/Smart Bar, present Gard(en)Counter, featuring Metro/Smart Bar in-house DJs Nate Manic, Bald E. and Kid Color, who’ll provide the gift of sound spanning 1982 to present day. As for the vision, we’re sure the multimedia exhibits and installations will fit perfectly like “blue, blue, electric blue.” (Duke Shin)

July 30, Pritzker Garden/Griffin Court at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan, (877)307-4242, 9pm-midnight, $8/$10.

Preview: Jovanotti/Lincoln Hall

DJ, Electronic/Dance, Folk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Post-Rock, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, World Music No Comments »

Photo: Pierpaolo Ferrari


Rapper-turned-acoustic troubadour Lorenzo Cherubini (best known as Jovanotti) might be a giant star who fills stadiums back in his native Italy, but here in the US he is following an indie musicians’ trail. During the summer of 2009, he played a string of regular acoustic-based shows at small New York City venues, and is now making a return with more East Coast dates.

“That idea came after the last gig we did here earlier this year,” Jovanotti says via telephone. “We did a concert at New York’s Highline Ballroom that was sold out, and the day after that there was the thought of coming here again to do another concert at a bigger place, but I really wanted to do something different.”

The singer-songwriter, who is also a human-rights activist, started out more than two decades ago as a rapper, but he always kept an open mind about his musical influences. Over the years, he began veering into a more melodic direction, and that led to collaborations with the likes of Brazil’s Daniela Mercury, Sergio Mendes, Bono, Ben Harper and Michael Franti (of Spearhead).

“I’m getting old,” he says with a laugh. “From my point of view, everything is much more natural. It’s like when you live with a person for many years, there is an evolution. As far as my music goes, the energy for me is always the same.” (Ernest Barteldes)

May 6, 8pm, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, (773)525-2501. $ 25.